The top child welfare officials in Florida and Alabama, both of whom are credited with improving foster care and other children’s services in their respective states, announced their resignations this week. They bring to at least eight the number of state child welfare officials who have resigned this year.
Bob Butterworth, who improved the workings and image of Florida’s long-troubled Department of Services for Children, is leaving office after 19 months to return to private law practice. Butterworth, a Democrat who for 16 years was Florida’s attorney general, was appointed by Republican Gov. Charlie Crist. He will leave office Aug. 15.
Page Walley, Alabama’s Commissioner of Human Resources, will leave his post on Sept. 1 to join Casey Family Programs, which hopes he can replicate his successes in Alabama by working with officials across the South. Walley, who previously headed Tennessee’s Department of Children’s Services, has been Alabama’s commissioner since January 2004.
Butterworth took Florida’s child welfare system from an agency known primarily for having a large number of children supposedly under its supervision who couldn’t be located, to an agency held accountable for its failings and devoid of the pervasive secrecy maintained by previous administrators. He put a premium on the preservation of families and oversaw the first decrease in a decade in the number of children committed to foster care.
Problems in the agency led him to create a task force whose work resulted in major changes in the way children were placed with family members and how those family members were supervised.
The group’s investigation of the disappearance of a two-year-old last summer resulted in the termination of the agency’s contract for foster programs with the YMCA of Sarasota. It also changed the way reports of missing children are handled.
Butterworth, who had previously served as a judge, prosecutor and sheriff, told Crist when he was appointed that he would only serve for 18 months.
In January 2007, during Walley’s tenure, Alabama’s Department of Human Resources was released from long-term federal supervision after it met and exceeded standards set by the court. The improvements focused on permanency planning for children in foster care and improvements in the care of children supervised by the state. Walley also upgraded and modernized the department’s computer systems and other support systems, and was in charge of food stamp, welfare-to-work and child support collection programs.
Replacements for Butterworth and Walley have not been named.
Eight State Child Welfare Officials Who Have Resigned This Year:
January – Kevin Ryan, head of New Jersey‘s Department of Children and Families, announces resignation, effective March 1, to oversee philanthropic work in Newark and Africa for a local foundation. Two years on the job.
March – Mary Dean Harvey, head of the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services, resigns amid continuing turmoil in the department. Harvey, who took over in 2005, was the fifth person to lead the division since 1996.
June – Cari DeSantis, secretary of Delaware‘s Department of Services for Children, resigns, effective July 1, to become vice president for public affairs and communication for Casey Family Programs. She had served since January 2001.
June – Carey Cockerell, commissioner of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, announces he will retire, effective Aug. 31. The department was responsible for the removal of more than 400 children from the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints Church’s YFZ Ranch in Eldorado, Tex. He had served since 2005.
July – Paula Neese, who has served as director of Missouri’s Children’s division since 2005 – first as interim until she was named to the job permanently in 2006, announced that she will leave the post at the end of September.
July – Sharlynn Bobo resigns as head of the District of Columbia‘s Child and Family Services Agency after the deaths of two children under supervision by the agency and controversy over the agency’s lack of followup on four sisters, whose decomposing bodies were found in their home in January. Bobo served just over a year.
July – Bob Butterworth resigns as head of Florida‘s Department of Children and Family, effective Aug. 15. He served 19 months.
July – Page Walley announces resignation as head of Alabama‘s Commissioner of Human Resources, effective Sept. 1, to head a new southern regional office for Casey Family Programs. He has been commissioner since January 2004.